Harvest 2013 Limbo

October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

October 1st, 2013

We’re relaxing somewhere in the middle of our 2013 harvest – a limbo between having picked all our whites, and waiting on the ripening of most of our reds. As such we have an opportunity for a bit of reflection on the 2013 season as a whole. Below are a few of the topics which have come to define the season for Sunset Hills.

Fruit samples - when to pick?

Fruit samples – when to pick?

Late Bud Break, and The Frost – While the majority of the state was affected by what is being called “The Mother’s Day Frost,” I haven’t been able to get any actual data on the total acreage of vineyard or tonnage of fruit affected. This information won’t likely be available from the state until next year. Anecdotally, though, it seems to havet has been fairly bad, inasmuch as very few wineries or growers in Northern Virginia were not affected directly (through their own vineyards) or indirectly (through their growers). To be affected by the frost means that newly opened “buds” on the vine were exposed to freezing temperatures, which will destroy the buds and prevent all or some fruiting for the entire season. This is especially problematic, as the demand for grapes in 2013 has been very high.
Sunset Hills had frost damage at both the Estate Vineyards and Catesby Vineyards, primarily in white varietals like Viognier, Chardonnay, and Traminette. As such, our overall white production for 2013 will be below what we were hoping; however, we saw almost no frost issues with red varietals, and are on track for our biggest red wine harvest to date.
Similarly, the cold Spring delayed our budbreak until late April and early May, depending on varieties. This pushed the season back about two weeks relative to the past four years. While this did not mean anything definitive for the 2013 season, it suggested that it might be difficult for us to ripen our late-ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, our autumnal weather has solved this issue for us, at least so far.

Spring and Summer Rains – Yes, we had rains. A lot of them. Disease pressure for downy mildew was higher this year than any of my previous seasons at Sunset Hills, and vigilant vineyard management has been more important this year than ever, especially considering the high vigor. Our June and July vineyard labor hours were off-the-charts high, as the crew attempted to keep up with the vines’ rapid growth through canopy and crop management. But I believe the hard work has paid off, as we’re now seeing exceptionally clean fruit being harvested and pressed.

Cool, Sunny August and September – The latter half of the growing season has been the real boon. August and September have been exquisite, with warm, sunny days and cool nights. We’ve seen slow, uniform ripening almost across the board in all our varietals, and there has been almost no rain in the past three weeks. (That said, next week might be a bit wet.) As these warm days and cool nights pile up, we begin to see a very good vintage forming.

Cabernet Franc harvest, Estate Vineyard #1

Cabernet Franc harvest, Estate Vineyard #1

It is, of course, too early to say much, since we still have about half of our fruit hanging on the vines, and since none of our fermentations have even finished yet; however, it’s certainly not too early to get excited.

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